'I'm sorry!' Clarkson forced to apologise for saying strikers should be shot in live TV jibe
- David Cameron tells the Top Gear presenter it was a 'silly thing to say'
- Ed Miliband says the comments were 'disgraceful and disgusting'
- Union official says presenter's comments were 'almost like Colonel Gaddafi'
Last updated at 10:37 PM on 1st December 2011
The outspoken TV presenter faced a storm of protest after saying public sector strikers should be ‘executed’ in front of their families.
In a day of extraordinary overreaction to what was clearly meant as a joke, one union official threatened to report him to police, while another said his comments were worthy of Colonel Gaddafi.
Even the Prime Minister, a friend of Mr Clarkson, was dragged into the row, describing the remarks as ‘silly’, while Ed Miliband said they were ‘disgusting’.
By yesterday evening, when Mr Clarkson was finally forced to issue an apology, the BBC had received almost 5,000 complaints about the interview on Wednesday night’s edition of The One Show.
The row erupted after millions saw the Top Gear host asked for his views on the day’s nationwide strikes.
He started by saying he liked the strikers, because the industrial action had meant there was no traffic on the roads.
But after insisting he had to be balanced as he worked for the impartial BBC, he launched into a satirical rant.
He said: ‘Frankly, I would have them shot. I would have them taken outside and executed in front of their families.’
Later in the show, he also complained about people who commit suicide by throwing themselves on railway lines, saying trains should not stop for them.
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Asked about them on ITV’s This Morning show, Mr Cameron said it was ‘a silly thing to say – I’m sure he didn’t mean it’.
Labour leader Mr Miliband said the remark was ‘absolutely disgraceful and disgusting’, adding: ‘He obviously does not understand the lives of the people who were going out on strike yesterday.’
The unions exploded in fury, with Unison calling on the BBC to sack the presenter and even contacting lawyers to consider whether he could be reported to the police for inciting violence.
Dave Prentis, Unison’s general secretary, said: ‘The One Show is broadcast at a time when children are watching: they could have been scared and upset by his aggressive statements.
‘While he is driving round in fast cars for a living, public sector workers are busy holding our society together: they save others’ lives on a daily basis, they care for the sick, the vulnerable, the elderly.
‘They wipe bottoms, noses, they help children to learn, and empty bins – they deserve all our thanks – certainly not the unbelievable level of abuse he threw at them.’
The union’s health spokesman Karen Jennings went so far as describing the comments as ‘almost like Gaddafi’.
‘Clarkson’s incitement to violence, and the refusal of David Cameron to roundly condemn it, is grossly offensive to all public sector workers but even more so to our members on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary who were on strike on Wednesday and who risk their lives in trouble spots around the world servicing the Naval fleet,’ he said.
Bert Schouwenburg, of the GMB union, said: ‘Jeremy Clarkson’s vile and offensive comments are insensitive in the extreme.
PLAIN SPEAKING, OR JUST PLAIN RUDE?
In February 2009, he famously called then Prime Minister Gordon Brown a 'one-eyed Scottish idiot' and in November the previous year, the BBC received almost 2,000 complaints when he joked about lorry drivers murdering prostitutes.
More recently, in October, it emerged he had taken out an injunction to prevent allegations about his private life being published.
Back in September 2005, he had a custard pie thrown in his face by green campaigners after picking up an honorary degree at Oxford Brookes University.
Also that year, he offered some 'handy hints' to cyclists, saying: 'Do not cruise through red lights. Because if I'm coming the other way, I will run you down, for fun.'
In November 2004, conservationists accused him of ruining virgin hillside during an off-road test of a Land Rover for the motoring programme.
And in February 2004, the BBC paid £250 compensation to Churchill Parish Council in Somerset after Clarkson drove a 4x4 Toyota pick-up truck into a 30-year-old horse chestnut tree to test the vehicle's strength.
By 5pm yesterday, the presenter had issued an apology.
When Mr Clarkson was asked for his reaction before flying out of the country, he said: ‘See what I actually said and then judge.
'I didn’t for a moment intend these remarks to be taken seriously – as I believe is clear if they’re seen in context.
'If the BBC and I have caused any offence, I’m quite happy to apologise for it alongside them.’
The BBC said: ‘The One Show is a live topical programme which often reflects the day’s talking points. Usually we get it right, but on this occasion we feel the item wasn’t perfectly judged.
'The BBC and Jeremy would like to apologise for any offence caused.’
Last night Tory MP Douglas Carswell called for a sense of perspective.
‘We shouldn’t rise to the bait on this,’ he said. ‘This is politicians causing mischief.’
Clarkson’s comments have regularly landed him in hot water.
Earlier this year, an item on Top Gear led to a complaint from the Mexican ambassador over ‘vulgar’ insults about Mexicans.
He called the then prime minister Gordon Brown a ‘one-eyed Scottish idiot’ and triggered 2,000 complaints when he joked about lorry drivers murdering prostitutes.